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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Loved One's Documents Go Missing and Others Materialize

Settling the affairs of a loved one involves a lot of forms and documents. With so many papers, I suppose it's inevitable that some things go missing. But some surprising ones may also turn up.

When my sister and I (Karen Chan is our guest blogger today) made Daddy's funeral arrangements, we were asked if he was a veteran. And yes, he was. We chose not to have the VFW perform a ceremony as part of the funeral, but they would still provide a flag for the casket. The funeral home director said they would need a copy of his honorable discharge in order to be reimbursed for the cost of the flag.

Discharge papers? My sister and I probably had that "deer in the headlights" look on our faces. If my mom had been alive, she probably would have known where it was. But neither my sister nor I had any idea where to look. To be honest, we didn't even try. A few weeks later, I was looking for something that belonged to my mother and, ironically, stumbled across a copy of the Daddy's discharge information. It was on photo paper and just the size of a postcard. The size and poor contrast made some of the information barely legible, but we made a copy and sent it to the funeral home anyway.

In the same box, I ran across a stock certificate for the Southern States Cooperative in the county where he lived. Southern States is a membership-owned group created to help farmers. The certificate was dated July 1, 1967 and stated, "Shares $1.00 each." The certificate was for four shares, and the Southern States website says that stock is worth the value listed on the certificate. His estate can redeem the shares by endorsing the stock certificate and sending it with a copy of the death certificate. Hmm. We'll spend $12 for a death certificate to redeem a stock certificate worth $4. I guess that's just the cost of wrapping things up.

The next surprise came when my sister and I approached the bank where Daddy had an IRA. Actually, there were two small IRAs: one was his, and one was originally my mother's. The bank would not release any information about the beneficiary designations on the account. But they provided a "Beneficiary Distribution Election Form" for each of us to fill out. (I can only assume that if we aren't listed as beneficiaries, we'll be told so after filing the form.) The surprise? We will also have to provide a copy of our mother's death certificate. It doesn't seem to matter that the bank already received a copy when she passed away, in order for Daddy to take distributions from her IRA. We still had to provide a copy with our beneficiary distribution requests. Neither of us had a copy of her death certificate, so we had to order one from the state's health department. The cost? $12 and a delay of a few weeks to receive it.

After my mom died, Daddy purchased a few savings bonds. He told us about the bonds, even showed them to us. Daddy had made a point of telling us that my sister Sally was listed as the beneficiary on half of them, and I was the beneficiary on the other half. He kept these in a safe, along with other things he considered important. These were some of the things that he kept with him when he entered the assisted living facility several years ago. When his dementia worsened, Sally removed the papers that she felt needed to be protected and took them to her home. When Sally and I divided the bonds after his death, there were six with my name but only five with her named as beneficiary. Sally assumed that he had cashed one in, or perhaps had only purchased five listing her as beneficiary. But I was confident that was not the case. With my prodding, she completed the Treasury's Claim for Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed United States Savings Bonds. It's been a few weeks since Sally send in the form and she hasn't heard anything yet, but I am confident that one had gone missing. (I'll add a comment to this post to let you know the outcome.) I'm just thankful that Daddy had been so transparent about his financial affairs. Otherwise, we would have had no idea that a bond was missing.

We are still in the early stages of dealing with Daddy's affairs, so there will probably be more adventures with missing or discovered documents. But that's it for now.

Written by Karen Chan, Special Projects, University of Illinois Extension

This is the third in a series of posts about Kathy and Karen's experiences after losing a close relative. We want this to be a conversation, and we invite you to comment and share your own experiences. Neither of us is an attorney or an authority on estate planning, and these posts will NOT give any kind of legal or estate planning advice.

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A slight aside from the main topic of important documents when estate planning, but something I haven't been able to find much information about. One additional "treasure" that I found when going through documents and other personal items in my Mom's safety deposit box after her death was a partial book of war saving bond stamps. (They reminded me of the old S&H Green Stamps that we used to save in a booklet.) According to the little bit of information that I have been able to glean, these stamps were sold by the USPS rather than through a financial institution at a cost of 25 cents each. When the book was full, it could be redeemed for a war bond during WW II. Neither the USPS or our bank knows anything about these. Since it is only a partial book, is there anything that can be done other than keep it as a memento?
by Karen Moore on Thursday 4/18/2013

Hi Karen, We do find interesting things when we go through our parent's papers and possessions, don’t we? The reference below gives a history of savings bond stamps. I would suggest emailing the US Treasury to ask if it’s possible to redeem your stamps. Apparently, the World War II stamps did not earn interest so you might only get the face value. Another avenue would be to check websites where individuals sell items, to see if you can find any sales history on similar items. A phone call to a local stamp or antique dealer might also get you an answer. Reference: "Postal and Treasury Savings Stamp Systems: The War Years" by Harry K. Charles, Jr., Ph.D., Karen Chan
by Kathy Sweedler on Tuesday 4/30/2013

It's definitely more like a scavenger hunt than anything else when someone dies.
by NuView IRA on Wednesday 5/1/2013

I agree. Your comment made me think about when my brother-in-law passed away. My sister and I searched and went through papers for days to find things like life insurance contracts and pension information.
by Karen Chan on Friday 5/24/2013